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II. Secondly, there are writers who, in their statements of the nature of faith, err by redundancy, instead of defect. In this class may be placed,
First, those who contend that assurance, or an unwavering confidence of personal acceptance with God, enters into the nature of faith; so that if a person hesitates to appropriate the language of the apostle, and to say, in all that fulness of meaning which a Calvinist attaches to the words, “ Christ loved me, and gave himself for me," he is destitute of the faith of God's elect.
Muchingenuity and much mystification have been displayed, in the attempt to support this position ; yet, it is greatly to be wondered at, that this view of the nature of faith should be entertained by any persons to whom accuracy of conception is not impossible. The following arguments, amongst others, may be urged against it.
First, The Bible contains no revelation in reference to any individual, that Christ died with the intention of saving him. The testimony of the gospel is not that Jesus Christ came into the world to save John Owen, or John Wesley, or Andrew Fuller, but to save believing sinners; and, therefore, the faith of the gospel is not the belief that John Owen, or John Wesley, or Andrew Fuller, shall be saved, but that believers shall be saved. It may, indeed, be a certain truth, that Christ died with the purpose of saving John Owen, and the knowledge of that truth may be essential to the permanent peace and happiness of John Owen; but still it is not that truth which is emphatically denominated the good news, i. e., the gospel. The tidings which appropriate to themselves that delightful epithet, are contained in the following words of our Lord : “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is the gospel; and, accordingly, to be a subject of faith in the gospel, is to believe this, and neither more nor less than this. It is not to believe that I am a believer, for that, though it be true, is not the gospel ; it is to believe the good news : and it is not a part of the good news that I am a believer, but that, if such be indeed the case, I
FAITH DOES NOT INCLUDE ASSURANCE.
am personally accepted of God, and that, being kept by the grace of Christ, I shall at length “appear with him in glory.”
In the first act of faith it is utterly impossible that the subject of our faith, i. e., the thing believed, can be that we are in a state of acceptance with God, because that fact, if it were a fact, is not revealed; and faith is not the belief of any proposition, even though it should be true, but the belief of some truth contained in the Scriptures—the belief of God's testimony concerning his Son; and that testimony is not that we are believers,--that we shall be saved; but that Christ died to save all who put their trust in him. And, if in the first act of faith the subject of our faith, i. e., the thing believed, is not our own acceptance with God, it cannot be such in any subsequent act of faith ; or, it would follow, that what we first believed was not the gospel, or that the gospel undergoes a change after we have given our confidence to it, which is absurd. We must, in short, either make a gospel for ourselves, or admit that the primary act of faith has no foundation to rest upon, i. e., exists without a cause, before we can consistently maintain that assurance enters into the nature of faith.
There is no intention, in what has been said, to intimate that it is impossible for an individual to obtain a settled confidence of his own acceptance with God; or that the attainment is not to be eminently desired. The single fact, that the apostle exhorts to “ show diligence to the full assurance of hope," proves both that it may be secured, and that it will repay the labour of acquisition. Nor is it further intended to deny, that incipient assurance accompanies the first act of believing ; for that is admitted to be the case. It is probable, indeed, perhaps certain, that what is ordinarily called assurance, and which may exist in different degrees, is invariably proportioned to the degree of knowledge and faith. The thing denied is, that assurance is identical with faith-that it enters into the essence of faith. The thing affirmed is, that to believe that we are believers, or Christians, or in a state of acceptance with God, is a different thing from believing the gospel; that the knowledge of our own justification must be
MISTAKES OF BARCLAY.
gathered as an inference from the fact of our believing; and that it is built upon all the evidence, whether of consciousness or of experience, which exists in support of that fact. “Nothing can be more evident,” says Dr. Russel, “ than that whatever God calls us to believe must be already true, and therefore true, whether we believe it or not; and that before we can believe it, evidence of its truth must be given us. But it is not true that a man is a Christian, till he believe the Divine testimony; and therefore his believing that he is a Christian, or, in other words, that he is a believer, can be no part of the faith of the gospel." "Our persuasion or conviction of the fact that we are Christians, is not properly faith at all,” (because not revealed.) “It is rather a knowledge of this fact, arising from our own immediate sensations or consciousness, which springs from the nature of the impressions made upon us by the general declaration of the gospel, and not from any thing like a direct testimony from heaven, respecting us in particular. When this conviction is well founded, it is the fruit of faith, and not faith itself." (Letters, vol. i. p. 128.)
Were we not well aware how difficult it is to analyze any operation of the mind which is in the slightest degree complex, we might feel more astonishment than we do, to find Mr. John Barclay maintaining that he, and Christians in general, gather their assurance of their own justification, along with their knowledge of the resurrection of Christ, from the direct testimony of God. Why, how can he do that, seeing that God has not testified that John Barclay is justified ? How can he gather from the Divine testimony what that testimony does not contain? How bring out of the Scripture what is not in it? He obviously confounds an inference drawn from the testimony of God, with that testimony itself; and practically forgets the very important fact, that however undeniable may be our deductions from Scripture, they are not Scripture. “ All who believe the record," says Mr. Barclay, “are justified,”—I believe the record, therefore, I believe I am justified." Now, which of the three foregoing propositions stands on the direct testimony of God? Obviously
FAITH DOES NOT INCLUDE
the first only. In what part of the Bible does the Divine Being testify, that John Barclay believes the record, and that consequently John Barclay shall be saved ? He gathered from consciousness, experience, &c., the assurance of his own faith; and then, since the Divine testimony declares that all believers are justified, he inferred that he, being a believer, was justified.
Secondly, Assurance (i.e., in the sense in which the word is taken in this controversy) cannot enter into the nature of faith, because believers are exhorted in the word of God to seek, that they may attain it. Wherefore, the rather, brethren,” says the apostle Peter, (2 Epis. 1 chap. ver. 10,)
give diligence to make your calling and election sure," i.e., obvious, and certain, both to yourselves and others. In the same manner also the apostle Paul, writing to the Hebrews, says, “ And we desire that every one of you
do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” (Chap. vi. 11.) Now these exhortations necessarily suppose, that the persons to whom they were addressed, were not in possession of assurance in this sense, though they were not totally destitute of hope in the great salvation. And yet they were believers, having attained like precious faith with the apostles; i. e., they were exhorted to seek to attain what, according to the sentiment opposed, they already possessed, it being necessarily implied in their faith, or rather entering into its very nature.
Thirdly, Assurance cannot enter into the nature of faith, because there are many believers who are destitute of it. I am well aware that the premises here may be disputed, and therefore the argument shall be put in a different form. It is obvious, then, that we must either reject the notion, that assurance enters into the nature of faith-or deny that any
who are destitute of assurance, are Christians. The latter I find it impossible to do. Not a few individuals known to me have given every evidence of conversion to God short of being able to say with steady and unhesitating confidence, “ He loved me, and gave himself for me." Some of the most holy, devoted, spiritually-minded persons, with whom it has been
my privilege to be acquainted, were seldoin able to rise above a hope, that all would prove well with them at the last. It is surely not necessary to call the existence of real religion, in such cases, into question; though it should be admitted, that the actual state of mind described, results from mistakes in reference to some part, or parts, of Divine truth ;mistakes, however, which rather affect the comfort, than the safety, of such as are unhappily the subjects of them. It is easy for a rigid adherent of system to affirm, that all who have not assurance have not faith; but it is not so easy even for him to believe it. The necessity which, as he conceives, lies upon him to admit a dogma which would go to unchristianize so many professing Christians, arises from confounding two things which are essentially different, viz., doubting ourselves, and doubting the truth of the Divine testimony. It is possible that persons may not be confident that they have the knowledge and faith which are stated to be essential to salvavation; while there exists no shadow of doubt in their minds that, if this be truly the case with them, they are delivered from condemnation. That God will save all who repent and believe, may stand in their minds as an unquestioned fact, while they have not, it may be, full confidence that they are penitents, and believers. There must be faith in the mindand therefore their state may be safe—or they could have no confidence of the final safety of penitents and believers, for it is from faith that this confidence arises. But it does not follow, that they must possess at the moment satisfactory evidence that faith is in the mind ;-at any rate, that faith which is connected with salvation, and which gives credit, as we have seen, not merely to the facts of the gospel, but to their supreme importance, and unrivalled glory.